The Supreme Court on Friday came out with a slew of directions to end discrimination against leprosy-afflicted persons, including periodic national surveys to determine the prevalence rate. It also called upon the Centre and states to “pro-actively plan and formulate a comprehensive community-based rehabilitation scheme which shall cater to all basic facilities and needs of the leprosy-afflicted persons and their families”.
A bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said “acceptability of leprosy patients in the society would go a long way in reducing the stigma attached to the disease”. It said “treatment of leprosy should be integrated into general health care, which will usher in a no-isolation method in general wards and OPD services”.
The bench was hearing a PIL filed by advocate Pankaj Sinha, who alleged that the government was not taking enough steps to eradicate the disease. The court directed that the activities of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) be given wide publicity.
“On World Leprosy Day, internationally observed on the last Sunday of January, the Union of India along with all state governments should organise massive awareness campaigns to increase public awareness about the signs and symptoms of leprosy, and the fact that it is perfectly curable by the Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT),” the court said.
It asked the authorities to “discontinue” using “frightening images” of people afflicted with leprosy in the awareness programmes and instead use “positive images of cured persons sharing their experiences of being cured of leprosy”.
The court also asked the Centre and states to ensure that drugs for management of leprosy and its complications, including the MDT drugs, are available free of cost and that they do not go out of stock in Primary Health Centres (PHCs) and other public health facilities.
The bench directed that the awareness campaigns must include information that a person affected by leprosy is not required to be sent to any special clinic or hospital or sanatorium and should not be isolated from the family members or the community and that they can lead a normal married life, can have children, can take part in social events and go to work or school as normal.
It also asked the authorities to ensure that there is no discrimination against women suffering from leprosy and they are given equal and adequate opportunities for treatment in any hospital of their choice. The court asked the government to explore the possibility of including leprosy education in school curricula and to give due attention to ensure that leprosy-afflicted are issued BPL cards so that they can avail the benefits under Antyodaya Anna Yojana scheme.
The court also told the Centre to consider framing separate rules for assessing the disability quotient of leprosy-afflicted persons for the purpose of issuing disability certificate to them.